Feet of Cement

cementazo

An earthquake of 6.5 shook the country recently.

We had had an early night as we had a crack of dawn start for a hosital appointment the next day but had hardly settled down before the dogs started yodelling. We thought they must have heard the coyotes who have been roaming the mountain behind us for a couple of weeks now but then they fell quiet as the house began to sway back and forth. It was like lying on a jelly.

It lasted a few minutes only and we had no damage. Friends have told us that the danger comes when the action is percussive and we did experience one of those in the original house down below…it was like a hammer drill doing its worst, but luckily, as the epicentre was only ten kilometres away, it was deep, at seventy five kilometres down, unlike the latest one whose epicentre was off the Pacific coast, and only ten kilometres down.

Still, it took the country’s mind off its problems for a moment.

Problems, you ask? In the land of Pura Vida where the people are amongst the happiest on earth according to some survey which is no doubt selling something?

I don’t know where they find these people as most of my friends are usually moaning….perhaps they  interview politicians.

Others interviewing politicians at the moment are the police. It is fairly normal for previous presidents to be investigated by the police, but only after a discreet passage of time when the proceeds have been salted away, so what has occurred to upset the applecart?

Cement…that is what.

No, not cement as in disposing of bodies while road building – the time it takes this country to get a road built the body would have disintegrated enough not to need burial anywhere – but cement as imported from China.

A happy duopoly controls cement sales in Costa Rica. It has no doubt paid well for its position over the years so was far from pleased when it looked as if the President was encouraging the import of cement from China with the aim of lowering prices.

Intolerable! Have his guts for garters!

So the duopoly set the hounds of the press on the job…or at least those parts of the press where it had influence….and finally they dredged up  one of the bosses of the Customs department who said that he had an e mail from the Deputy Finance Minister telling him that the ‘Big Chief’ – supposedly the President – wanted any shipments of Chinese cement to get through Customs without the usual old Spanish practices so that it would still be fit to use when released.

Shock horror!

Then the hounds went further. They discovered that one of the state banks had made a huge loan to the importer – with the cement as security –  the major part of which loan had ended up in his private coffers, while no cement ever arrived in Costa Rica.

And this is where things started to  go wrong.

Aiming at the President, the duopoly accidentally put one of their own in the frame.

The Chief Prosecutor.

This man, a stalwart of the old regime in Costa Rica, was an expert in delaying and burying unwanted dossiers and had been found with his fingers in the bank’s affairs, dividing the investigation into a myriad of mini investigations which would run into the sand, leaving those responsible at the bank to live a quiet life in the offices which had been refurbished recently at vast expense from the bank’s money…..i.e. public funds.

He was suspended and a young lady was appointed as interim Chief Prosecutor.

She seems to hold the view that prosecutors should prosecute and to that end has put the would be importer and the bank officials into preventive detention while she investigates.

Further, she has unearthed links between a magistrate, the Deputy Finance Minister and several politicians which she believes may give rise to prosecutions for the traffic of influence and has, with the consent of the courts, proceeded to seize their offices, computers and cars in search of evidence.

Mark you, this being Costa Rica, where the sublime usually descends to the gor blimey, the cars of the police seizing the gear of the Deputy Finance Minister were nicked for parking offences by the Municipal Police in San Jose.

She has also had a look at the mosaic of dossiers prepared by the Chief Prosecutor over the years in other sensitive matters, the upshot of which is that said Chief Prosecutor has decided to retire and a recent President is being summoned to explain how a mining company managed to get a permit to mine in a conservation area.

The country is reeling.

Action on corruption! Whatever next!

It does not come at a good moment for the politicians. Any of them. Because the Presidential elections are coming up in February and corruption is a major beef for the electorate.

Normally the level of enthusiasm of Costa Ricans for elections equals the energy of a crocodile in the early hours of a chilly morning, but this case has roused people to resemble crocodiles at midday, ready to wolf down anything in their path.

And what is in their path?

Politicians.

I can bet that the man who put up this poster is not going to vote for the PLN.

PLN elections

He seems to have strong feelings on the subject.

Historically the PLN held a firm grip on the vote as they were the party of the President who abolished the army and set up the CAJA – the NHS of Costa Rica. People were grateful and remained so for years.

Further, under the same recent President who is now being summoned to explain the mining licence, the civil service was expanded beyond anything that was necessary in order to form a client vote of those who benefited from the excellent wages, perks and pensions  – and their extended families.

Occasionally the PUSC, sort of Christian Democrats, would get a look in to keep them sweet, but basically the PLN had it all their own way, including in  local government.

The last elections brought a change….the people elected an almost unknown candidate, a university professor, who stood on a platform of opportunity for all, not the few.

Thus the enmity of the cement duopoly who regard such views as heresy.

He has had a hard fight. No majority in the National Assembly, ministries stuffed with partisans of the outgoing party….but the ship is slowly turning round. People are discontented with the slow pace of change but with the cement case there is a chance that they will see that change is possible…if they will back those who work for it.

Locally, too, politics is in the news.

This town is built on ground that is unstable…underground water courses run all over the place, let alone fault lines,  so holes tend to appear in the roads without warning. Ideally the council would use a study done by the University of Costa Rica which showed how to channel  and drain the area, but, of course, that would cost money and the council never seems to have any of that for infrastructure problems despite having a dedicated budget for same.

So the holes tend to be there for a long time.

puris holes in road

 

Exasperated by the inaction of the council a group of businessmen got together, hired an engineer and the necessary equipment and did the job themselves in the course of one night when they could reckon to be undisturbed by council workers or police who tend not to venture out after dark.

The alcalde – mayor – outraged by this demonstration of citizen power announced that the work was shoddy and would collapse within a week. Furthermore it would all have to come up anyway as the council was about to start a programme of repairs!

Several weeks later the holes remain mended and the council has managed to repair one road…the one leading to the fiesta ground which has been done in time for the annual high jinks surrounding the celebration of the town’s patron saint’s day.

Clearly it is not for nothing that the alcalde is a member of the PUSC.

I have been a trifle unfair to the police here.

They have a new boss. He is a local lad who has worked in other areas for years before being drafted back to his home town.

He wishes to clean up the place, but is a realistic gentleman.

No point rounding up the drug dealers and the wild young men who make the roads dangerous by doing wheelies, etc on onlicensed motorbikes during the week, as the resident judge for criminal affairs has a great respect for the presumption of innocence and tends to release anyone  daft enough to be caught by the previous police chief.

No…save the effort for the weekends, when a duty judge comes down from San Jose and jugs the lot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holes in the road.

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It’s a Hap Hap Happy Day

Always good to see people happy in their work…

It has been a happy day here too, even if we have not been tying anyone down.

We are feeding an orphan lamb…Oliver…who is a complete tyrant. He sleeps in Leo’s office and at five thirty a.m. on the dot he calls for milk….drinks three bottles. Sleeps.

Wakes again at six thirty..three more bottles. At this point Leo takes him out on a collar and lead to his pen…

Little does Oliver The Insatiable know that once that the nights are fine with the approach of the dry season he will be overnighting in his pen for a while before joining the other sheep …though milk will still be provided until he is independent.

The dogs are well and happy…chickens are laying even if the ducks are on strike…the garden is looking lovely… but it is a hap hap happy day as Leo has decided to give himself a goal to get on his feet properly after his accident.

We are off to Guatemala in December.

We should have visited Guatemala before, when the brother in law came over for a tour of Central America, but we only got as far as Honduras – a country which enchanted me. I am so glad we saw something of it before yet another U.S. inspired coup plunged it into insecurity once again.

BIL wanted to see the Mayan ruins at Copan, so we did that, but I have to admit that Mayan architecture does not do much for me. It might have done more had I not read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Eric’ just before the trip.

Copan-Honduras

Accordingly while BIL clambered about among the ruins all I could think of was a parrot shouting ‘Whotsit’ and The Luggage sprinting up the temple steps  annihilating all in its path..

Better still if we had visited the site ‘El Puente’ before going to Copan.

A subsidiary city of Copan it has been far less explored…but had a superb museum. I was lucky enough to have been given a guided tour by the director of the site…one of the most handsome men I have ever encountered…who put the city into its historical and geographical context for me. Beats a guide book any day.

I preferred the old colonial towns…drowsing in the wake of their history, like Gracias a Dios…once the capital of Central America …now quiet under the walls of the fortress San Christobal

gracias a dios fort san christobal

Coming out of the hot lowlands I can just imagine how those men in their armour and hot garments would say ‘Thanks be to God ‘ on reaching the cool uplands….

We returned by a route which, while marked as a road on the map, proved to be a track…dusty trails, rickety bridges. close your eyes and hope for the best, you name it…but we survived and ended up in Comayagua.. another one time capital, this time of Honduras.

I had wanted to go there to see the oldest working clock in the Americas.

comayagua cathedral 2

It does not look very impressive at first sight, high up on the tower of the Comayagua cathedral, but it is a fascinating piece of machinery.

clock-comayagua

It is connected by wires to a two hundred year old bell – La Emigdio – which strikes the quarter hours and to a three hundred year old bell – La Conception – which rings the hours.

Popularly supposed to have first been installed in the Alhambra under the Moors, then given as a present to the bishop of Camayagua by Philip II of Spain in the sixteenth century, experts have suggested that it could have been made in that period in what was then the Spanish Netherlands….

Spoilsports.

With only a week to spare we shall not see much of Guatemala, but there seems to be plenty to do in Guatemala City, if we are not mugged or killed. Apparently casual crime is a problem to the extent that there are armed police on the city buses….

Our lawyer’s daugter was a missionary there a few years ago and was glad to get back to the safety of Costa Rica. I wonder if it was a coincidence that he asked us whether we wanted to revise our wills in any way before we leave…

Still, there are museums aplenty to keep us amused, a botanic garden to explore and squares to sit in while Leo rests. I expect we will survive.

A friend who visits Guatemala often in search of textiles bemoans the replacement of traditional dyes by modern, neon bright ones, but has given me a good address for finding the real stuff in Antigua, once – you have guessed it – capital of Central America until partially destroyed in an earthquake in the late eighteenth century.

As the real stuff will probably be at surreal prices I think I might confine my research to the museums. As one who used, in another life, to spin, dye and weave I am looking forward to  seeing how the Guatamaltecans go about it.

loom-weaving-fabric-art

We will try to go to Antigua, however. Now a UNESCO site, it is sanitised beyond belief, but still worth seeing for its architecture…

Antigua_Guatemala

Having thought that our travelling days were over I am delighted that Leo has determined that they are not.

Things have changed about the way in which we travel though…no more day long bus rides and no more hotels in the back of beyond with polyester sheets. The goal is to get Leo walking confdently again, rather than to slide off the bed and break a hip so we are letting the ‘plane take the strain and have found a comfortable hotel in the city centre in what appears to be a safe area.

Of course, we may be tempting fate by talking about it…Leo could have another attack, there could be another hurricane, I could drop dead…but if it comes off I shall be delighted to be travelling together once again, after all my solitary journeys.

To have someone to whom to say

‘Look at that!’